March came in like a nightmare for Ted Williams and the Boston Red Sox yesterday when baseball’s highest salaried star broke his left collarbone while trying to make a shoestring catch of a sinking line drive during practice at Payne Park.
He had returned the previous year from Korea as a flying Marine captain where he had a close call when his jet plane was damaged in action and crashed in flames.
Williams missed the 1952 season and all but 37 games of the 1953 season because of his military service. He flew with future astronaut John Glenn and was decorated for his 39 missions.
You would think sportswriters would have been more charitable. But Williams was perennially at war with the press. Here’s how Nick Robertson described Williams’ injury in his Sportscript column:
Unpredictable Ted Williams arrived late for practice yesterday and when he finally took the field fate suddenly caused him to stumble and his 220 pounds – 15 pounds overweight – hit the ground ker-plunk on his left shoulder.
…Cynics were heard to mutter that “he would have missed these drills anyway,” after the accident.
Williams returned to the lineup on May 7, hitting .345 for the season. He lost the batting title to Bobby Avila who batted .341 because he didn’t have 400 at bats. He finished the season with 366 career home runs, fifth at the time. He retired after the Red Sox’s final game of the season on Sept. 26.
Forty years later, Williams explained himself to the Sporting News:
A man has to have goals – for a day, for a lifetime – and that was mine, to have people say, ‘There goes Ted Williams, the greatest hitter who ever lived.’